Synopsis: Lyra (Dafne Keen of Logan fame) discovers that her new benefactor, Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson – Luther, etc.) is not what she thought she was at all. Roger (Lewin Lloyd) is still missing and is with other Gyptian children taken by the Gobblers. The North beckons.
A strong start to any series is vital. Once the scene is set, the second episode has the job of keeping things moving, whilst developing the story. This show achieves that, by keeping everyone discovering more about the protagonist.
Another important aspect of a series is an overarching narrative. This installment gives the first glimpse of plans for a machine, in the North. It gives that all-important seed some water. That is where the characters will be heading, and where the viewers will follow them too. Until then, the journey there is everything. Preparations must take place, both internally and externally. Again, this episode offers examples of both. Lyra is taken in by having a parent figure there for her, for the first time in her life. She buys into exactly what Mrs. Coulter wants her to. Lyra naively reveals that she knows about the properties of mystical dust, in an attempt to show she isn’t just a witless child.
The warring emotions that rage within Lyra is realized by Dafne Keen, who has immersed herself into the role, making it her own. The would-be adventurer, complete with Lyra’s troubled past, is every bit the product of thorough character study. The false sense of security can’t last, but the fact Lyra wants it shows her internal conflict poignantly. Keen excels at holding the viewer in the palm of her hand, and pulling on the heartstrings, but never appears too vulnerable. Not an easy balance to achieve, but Keen manages to.
Ruth Wilson shows her ability to maintain the undercurrent of tension, as she works to keep up the sweet façade of a concerned adult, makes for brilliant television. The knowing it’s coming is everything, and Wilson really does draw the viewer in. So much so, that she’s able to make those watching believe she’s more than just an evil kidnapper. She is, too. All good villains are complex, and Wilson shines as one here, displaying nuance and keeping up the false concern for her captive.
The supporting cast plays their part, too. Anne Marie Duff is believable as the grieving mother of a missing child. She’s accompanied by a strong performance of James Cosmo, who is the unofficial leader of the adult community looking for the lost children, who they now suspect to having been taken. The various members of the Magisterium provide a chilling feeling. Ariyon Bakare‘s Lord Boreal takes the onscreen terror one step further, displaying exactly how far he is willing to go in achieving his aims.
CGI and Action
A much better depiction of the central setting of the story, Oxford. The huge, granite, ancient buildings do much of the work themselves in setting the atmosphere of children in an adult world. The clever camera work helps to make the size and scale of them act as a metaphor for this, too. There isn’t a great deal of onscreen magic going on in this episode, but the soul animals are stunningly impressive. They blend in fluidly and after a few minutes, it’s easy to forget that real animals don’t talk. The iconic golden compass is worthy of a mention, too. It doesn’t do much, but the first glimpse of the magical moving hands is exciting. realistic, too. they sweep with ease and the result is that the action is automatic.
Philip Pullman’s world is very much one that divides adults and children. Whilst both inhabit the same space, they live in very different worlds. Want different things, for different reasons. Something as obvious as this might not make for a good aspect of a story, in the work of a lesser writer. Fortunately, the psychological element so necessary for it to work is perfectly distilled. This show manages to get across the evidence of it with subtlety and splendor. It sticks with the basics, allowing the child character of Lyra to state that she wants adventure, action, and excitement.
At the end of the episode, viewers are left with a new Lyra, who must go to the North and have the adventure that she was always destined to. Whatever trust she had left in adults is now gone, which really does make for a sinister feel to the episode. The choice to remain a child is taken from her, essentially.
Good writing, with a well-paced plot being played out, and the magic of Philip Pullman‘s world made visual, feasibly, makes it easy to see why this show has drawn such high praise. So far, it’s the adaptation the fans wanted so badly, and have waited a long time for. The wait is over. It’s here. The North beckons next, and the adventure is about to really start.
The novel series of ‘His Dark Materials’ is featured in a gift list on The Portalist.com
- CGI and Action8.6
- Incidental Music7.5